Company Hop Farms, Brew Tanks, Distributors Oh My!
August 24, 2016 3:00 PM   Subscribe

What "Selling Out" Allows a Craft Brewery to Do (Serious Eats) Far be it from me to act as a propaganda arm for a $200 billion company headquartered in...uh, is it Belgium at the moment? But I thought it was time someone went to the original founders and employees of the numerous craft breweries that have been acquired, not just by ABI but by other corporate beverage behemoths, like Constellation Brands, Heineken, and Mahou San Miguel, to try to get the full story. What's been going on since these acquisitions—for better or for worse? Does anything actually improve when Big Beer buys you? posted by CrystalDave (71 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 


It's a shame because for a few years there I felt like many grocery stores carried a wide selection of independent craft brewers, and now I'm slowly seeing a shift towards mostly carrying the "sellout" brands of craft beers: Lagunitas (50% Heinecken), Goose Island (owned by ABInBev), Ballast Point (owned by Constellation), Saint Archer (Majority stake MillerCoors), Golden Road (owned by ABInBev), Firestone Walker (minority stake Duvel), Anchor (owned by The Griffin Group), Kona Brewing (owned by Craft Brew Alliance, minority stake ABInBev). The few remaining indie craft brews are mostly local, like Stone, Coronado, Telegraph, Angel City, Figueroa Mountain, Telegraph.
posted by JauntyFedora at 3:22 PM on August 24, 2016 [10 favorites]


What's been going on since these acquisitions—for better or for worse? Does anything actually improve when Big Beer buys you?

I am picturing an airplane-assembly enormous brew building with each of scores of craft beers -- complete with individualized signage, decor, and appropriate music -- occupying its own little brewbicle.
posted by jamjam at 3:24 PM on August 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Lagunitas (50% Heinecken), Goose Island (owned by ABInBev), Ballast Point (owned by Constellation), Saint Archer (Majority stake MillerCoors), Golden Road (owned by ABInBev), Firestone Walker (minority stake Duvel), Anchor (owned by The Griffin Group), Kona Brewing (owned by Craft Brew Alliance, minority stake ABInBev).

Wow, now that you point it out it's really hard to miss. That's basically the selection I see at every grocery store now. Thankfully here we still get access to Deschutes, Reuben's Brews, Fremont Brewing, and Bale Breaker, but they are gradually being compressed into smaller and smaller shelf space. Depressing.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:25 PM on August 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure how I feel about the consolidation in general, but it really has led to an incredible selection at local grocery stores. I broke a bartender's heart the other day by mentioning that I'd picked up a 4 pack of an obscure Ommegang at Ralphs and was excited to see it at a restaurant.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:30 PM on August 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


My guess is that the big corporate connection buys you distribution and the brewing is not much changed. By distribution, I mean space on the delivery truck and space on the shelves.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:32 PM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


From the article:
"We don't have investors and a bank to pay back anymore," Gill says. "The margins we needed to hit on our beers are now gone"—ABI doesn't necessarily care if each and every beer released makes a solid profit—and "it's changed how we think about our portfolio in a major way and has benefited the beers more positively than I expected."
It'll be interesting to see if that holds true if Golden Road loses marketshare or if ABI hits some tough financial times. Someone is always going to care about the bottom line.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:36 PM on August 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


The entire economic argument is about distribution.
posted by JPD at 3:37 PM on August 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


And then, once the brew is no longer popular and no longer selling as well as it did, the megacorp owns the trademark. Perhaps they'll streamline it, applying the Pareto Principle/80-20 Rule and simplifying the process to make it more cost-effective, whilst keeping the brand intact. Or perhaps they'll launch a spin-off in whatever style is fashionable, in the way that Guinness launched a hoppy IPA a while ago. Or perhaps they'll kill the now unprofitable microbrew and, some years later, revive the brand to launch a completely different beer (perhaps a generic lager for some specific market). The brand, in any case, is an asset in the catalogue, to be exploited in which ever fashion is most cost-effective.
posted by acb at 3:39 PM on August 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


I love the many wonderful craft breweries I've had the pleasure to visit and drink at here in Ontario and in Quebec. But brewing really is a business and while it sounds great to drinkers that brewers are genuinely doing it because they love beer, they also love being able to make a living too. Right now, craft beer is big and getting bigger. Brewers who couldn't get a loan to start are now being seen as money in the bank. But it's a long haul to make sure your products are consistent across the board every time and it isn't cheap. (Hence, some contract brewers like Double Trouble in Eastern Ontario. They use Wellington Brewery's equipment to make their beer.)
posted by Kitteh at 3:40 PM on August 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


...brewery cofounder Mark Buford has said that its flagship Toasted Lager is "now being brewed by the best lager-makers around."

While technically true, I suppose, he's referring to a lager with nearly 30% rice in the grain bill. Just sayin."
posted by Thorzdad at 3:41 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


The entire economic argument is about distribution.

Ayup, as I found reading down further.
You might know that ABI has captured around 50% of the US beer market, but potentially more dangerous is the fact that it also owns more than 500 distributors nationwide. Under the three-tier system, if you control the distributors, you could, in theory, control how all beer is sold in this country.

Nikos Ridge, founder of Ninkasi Brewing, told the Wall Street Journal that ABI's distribution practices and incentive programs are tantamount to "saying, 'We would like to shut down a massive pillar of the United States distribution system to craft.'"
Now that's troubling. Welp, I guess my policy of buying my beer from local independent breweries (if Bell's ever makes it out here, I'll make an exception) is my way of fighting back.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:42 PM on August 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


It's also worth noting that acquisitions are hard (*cough* *yahoo* *cough*)

The fact that AB hasn't majorly screwed up even one of the small breweries that it acquired is actually pretty remarkable.

The worst thing they could find was a single (admittedly quite large) bad batch of beer? ABI are missing their true calling in management consulting.
posted by schmod at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2016 [13 favorites]


I am picturing an airplane-assembly enormous brew building with each of scores of craft beers -- complete with individualized signage, decor, and appropriate music -- occupying its own little brewbicle.

I am picturing something more like this.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:50 PM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


The fact that AB hasn't majorly screwed up even one of the small breweries that it acquired is actually pretty remarkable.

The worst thing they could find was a single (admittedly quite large) bad batch of beer? ABI are missing their true calling in management consulting.


We have had several breweries around here bought out by ABI.

Their methodology, so far, appears to be to buy the name, premises _and_ the management team.
None of the founders who have "sold out" have actually left.

I'm sure that this will change once the craft beer movement reaches its inevitable peak and the money stops coming fast and easy, but for right now at least, the major companies seem to content to just bankroll existing, already successful businesses and leave them alone to do their own thing.
posted by madajb at 3:56 PM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am picturing an airplane-assembly enormous brew building with each of scores of craft beers -- complete with individualized signage, decor, and appropriate music -- occupying its own little brewbicle.

This is actually kind of true but only at the vats!

I worked at Molson's Brewery in Toronto (now a condo of course because Toronto) in the late eighties just as variety was slowly entering the Canadian beer marketplace and Molsons ran production for all kinds of non-Molson beer under production and distribution contracts - including things that were exotic at the time like Kirin Ichiban (though mostly at the Barrie plant but they still ended up in our break-room fridges!)

At the time you couldn't sell imported beer in Canada so foreign operations had to license with a brewery or setup their own (in each separate province).

I applied to work at Sleemans while doing my undergrad at U of Guelph and was stunned by how small the operation was at the time. One labeler (Molsons had 18 or so in the Toronto plant) and their production line worked the front half (bottle filling) in the morning and back half (labeling and packaging) in the afternoon with a lunch break for pasteurization. Molsons had 6 full non-stop productions lines and by the time I left two of them were running 24 hours a day 5 days a week.
posted by srboisvert at 4:02 PM on August 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


If the craft beer market goes south, then it won't be only the BigBooze-owned names that go south with it.

In the UK, the major victims of consolidation have been the bigger names, not the microbreweries, who tend to get their beer 'consolidated' into the buyer's existing huge production facilities and considerably diminished in quality as a result.

Which is a shame, as a lot of tasty beers I have enjoyed over the years have dropped off my personal menu. But on the plus side, I don't have to do any research to work out which beers to boycott; if it tastes naff, I don't buy it. In any case, there are so many new ones to try that it's no bad thing to be fickle.

(My opinion might well be different if I lived somewhere without good access to the good stuff)
posted by Devonian at 4:08 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am picturing an airplane-assembly enormous brew building with each of scores of craft beers -- complete with individualized signage, decor, and appropriate music -- occupying its own little brewbicle./

Cathedral with chapels.

Has Joanna Trollope written a novel with a craft brewer in it? Because I quite like Rachel Ray.
posted by clew at 4:19 PM on August 24, 2016


My guess is that the big corporate connection buys you distribution and the brewing is not much changed. By distribution, I mean space on the delivery truck and space on the shelves.

Correct, the real problem I believe are the archaic laws dating from Prohibition, only instilled because of ... Prohibition. Distribution is hard, it is not just a matter of getting a kickstarter and selling it online. If that was the case I think we'd see a different outcome.

However, my local brewery was bought out by Duvel and everyone I know that works there loves it, nearly 3+ years on. There's been noticeable change, an explosion in the brewery's craft beer output, in both quantity and diversity. Much needed upgrades from the capital infusion, etc. For some reason beer eschews the typical buy out then slash all fat that normal M&A tends to bring. There may be laws I don't know about that force this, or it may simply be in how beer is manufactured that eschews typical efficiencies. In any case, someone needs to figure out why M&A thrives here and kills everything else.
posted by geoff. at 4:29 PM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


It so happens that I work just up the road from Golden Road Brewery and we used to go there for lunch quite regularly.

Then one day we all felt the rumbling of an earthquake here at work. Nothing unusual... it's California after all. But then maybe wasn't an earthquake after all. It was on the day they sold out so maybe it was just Anheuser Busch's enormous fleet of large dump trucks delivering multiple metric fucktons of cash to the owners.

Didn't bother me anyways. I had stopped going there after they decided to no longer making that delicious Koelsch they used to have. Bastards.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:33 PM on August 24, 2016


I find it interesting that the article doesn't mention that Ninkasi dropped their ABI-owned distributor in exchange for two smaller regional distributors: http://brookstonbeerbulletin.com/ninkasi-drops-big-ones-signs-smaller-distributors/

Nothing against the journalist, but that would have helped give context to the Ninkasi counterpoint.
posted by tmt at 4:36 PM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I like porter. If it's not porter, Ballentine Ale is plenty good enough. To me, most craft beers taste like they have soap in them (I think connait-sewers call it 'hoppy'). I like porter because ONE is my limit--under pressure in an Irish pub, I got through .75L and just had to stop. So I am, to say the least, not the target audience.

I assume the profusion of entertainingly-named-and-packaged beers is about expanding shelf space, much like supermarkets now have 14 kinds of SPaM (spammed spam, what a concept!) and 12 different packaged couscous from the same brand. It is choice as an illusion of power. It is illusion. It is not power. It may not even be beer.

So beer. Guinness draft in the can seems to be the best in the US (where I am). Yuengling porter at 2/3 the price is a better deal (though not always available), and their Yuengling Black and Tan is also OK. They both are one-is-all-you-want for me. (Guiness export etc seem to be repackaged Dublin horsepiss)

If you know any other 'bargains', please respond.

posted by hexatron at 4:36 PM on August 24, 2016


Yeah, a lot of the "shrinking selection" is a second-order thing that you can thank the distributors for: without them being willing to deal with craft breweries, your selection is winnowed before it ever has a chance to reach the package store's shelves.

/angry Rhode Islander who hates yet another facet of this corrupt state culture.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


Chicago Tribune has an article on how Goose Island beers have fared five years after the acquisition, with some details on scaling up the recipes. (I think their IPA tastes like bug poison, but I've yet to have it in factory-fresh condition.)

I am pretty happy that Founders All-Day IPA and Terrapin are in my grocery store now. But I worry that Big Beer and their distributors, who have been openly hostile to small and mid-size breweries in the past, will at some point see their market share plateau and get back to the business of destroying their remaining competition.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


As the victim of an acquisition in the past, I find it most interesting that the founders of the various breweries are still there, long after they might be required to be. That suggests to me that it isn't a put-on, and that things really are good... for the brewery employees.

As consumers, we have to figure out how much we value the wider availability of the now-acquired beers vs the ever-shrinking space devoted to non-acquired beers, but I tend to be someone who likes what I like, so as long as my Deschutes Black Butte Porter keeps showing up in local stores, I'll be fine, I guess.

Still, I'm impressed that the employees are still happy. Good for them!
posted by pwinn at 4:49 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think the distributors are the real evil here, the scheming Nyarlathoteps to the giant brewers uncaring Azathoths. They force the local cults/stores/bars into acts of worship/shelf/tap space and the locals can only comply as they have no idea what the gibbering multinational demon sultans desire. The small brewers, the micros and nanos, are Ephraim Waites or Obed Marshes - people who have had to give up some part of their humanity to gain power/distribution.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:53 PM on August 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


Based on the truly execrable 12 oz Red Hook ESB I picked up on sale the other day in the mistaken assumption it was drinkable, I think we have plenty of evidence what opportunities acquisition offers.

I would note, as a counterfactual, that my East Coast neckbeard bros delighted to find various flavors of Elysian out East should drink up now, before they inject the vats here with the same combination of vinegar and embalming fluid found in that sad, shrunken little bottle of fake ESB.
posted by mwhybark at 5:10 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


(Also, imho Goose Island has undergone the same sort of poisoning as Red Hook, aimed at reducing the sugars and flattening the flavor so that it appeals more to non-craft drinkers. My test case in these matters is my well-respected, highly productive and manly brother-in-law, a firefighter and surfer who loves Coors Light and reallllly hates the complex, sugary, hi-test mouth qualities of micros.

I actually do think the acquisition desecrations are designed to introduce a wider range of palates to folks like my BIL, because they can graduate him from Coors [fuxake] and broaden his palate while charging him more, as America! intended.

So far, he's sticking with that shitbag Adolph, and the company that effectively invented US craft-beer marketing in the 1970s.)
posted by mwhybark at 5:20 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


They'll still get you drunk, right?

Carry on.
posted by jonmc at 5:27 PM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I applied to work at Sleemans while doing my undergrad at U of Guelph and was stunned by how small the operation was at the time.

Presumably half the warehouse was the soundstage where John Sleeman recorded all those radio ads throughout the early 90s.
posted by GuyZero at 5:32 PM on August 24, 2016


And then there's BrewDog
posted by aeshnid at 6:00 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


From TFA:
Of course, even if ABI controls the market and the distributors, it doesn't control the bars, brewpubs, restaurants, retail shops, and supermarkets, which would be silly not to continue offering a wide variety from those 4,500 American breweries.
Yeah, that's... not how it works. If you control the market and the distributors, then your leverage over the points of sale is virtually unlimited. That's basically the history of how the big American macros cornered the market in the first place decades ago.

I don't disagree with the article's premise that there are benefits to these acquisitions, and I doubt that I could tell the difference in a blind taste test of Elysian Immortal pre- and post-acquisition, but I know the desired end state for these companies is to own the market, so I try to buy independent whenever I can. There's never been a better time for beer diversity, so if there's a beer you enjoy from Goose Island or Ballast Point, it's more likely than not you can find something very close from a local and/or independent brewery.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:17 PM on August 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


And then, once the brew is no longer popular and no longer selling as well as it did, the megacorp owns the trademark.

But in a similar situation, an un-acquired brewery just goes bankrupt, right? So how much worse off are you if your favorite once-independent-now-acquired brand simply winnows the selection down to the most popular brews?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:34 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't really care if AB or Miller/Coors maintains the quality of whichever micro they buy, I don't want them to get my money and there are still tons of small local breweries that I can support.
posted by octothorpe at 6:40 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


God, why Elysian for chrissakes? They are literally the crappiest "micro" brew in this town.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:48 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


There are so many good local breweries that I can find at my neighborhood liquor store. Why go anywhere else when I have a steady supply of New England Brewing Company, Jack's Abbey, Lawson's Finest Liquids, and Alchemist? Why even bother buying the sellouts? Buy local, and buy often.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:51 PM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


If this article is to be believed (and I don't see why it shouldn't), then Goose Island had one employee named Brett Porter, and another named Ken Stout.
posted by kcds at 7:29 PM on August 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Slarty, thank you! I've hated Elysian since I moved here about 10 years ago. Definitely the worst brewery in town. Must be the non-local cartoon branding.
posted by kittensofthenight at 7:44 PM on August 24, 2016


But in a similar situation, an un-acquired brewery just goes bankrupt, right? So how much worse off are you if your favorite once-independent-now-acquired brand simply winnows the selection down to the most popular brews?

Mostly because the acquireds been using the intervening period to squeeze out the independents using the distributor clout they've acquired, further winnowing the choices available to consumers.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:48 PM on August 24, 2016


"Sold out" is such a bullshit term. So we shame people now for slaving over something they love long enough to see it grow into a product they can actually sell so they can finally make a decent living doing that thing that they love? You think because you bought/drank/listened to that thing before someone else did that gives you the right to sit in judgement? That that artist/brewer/musician owes you something because you're the almighty consumer? Sorry (not sorry) but it just reeks of jealousy and knee-jerk anti-anything corporation and it's disgusting. Tell you what, put every cent you can scratch up and every ounce of your time and energy into something you're passionate about and when you finally start turning a profit after a couple-five years (if you're one of the lucky few) and you gain some traction in the marketplace but you're still working 80 hour weeks just to break even, and then a larger company comes along and loves what you're doing and offers up their marketing team and infrastructure and distribution network and buying power plus they'll pay you a bunch of money to keep doing the thing you love and you can finally sit and breathe and leave work at 5 and spend time with your family and not have to worry about making payroll or your mortgage payment, then come back and let us know if you feel like that's "selling out". Ugh.
posted by bizwank at 8:00 PM on August 24, 2016 [21 favorites]


Yeah, I think "selling out" only applies if the thing you're creating is not being primarily done for money, and the thing you're creating is somehow critical of a money making institution. So like punk rock musicians and visual artists can "sell out." But a company that is literally "selling" a product that starts selling really well isn't exactly "selling out."
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:06 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sorry (not sorry) but it just reeks of jealousy and knee-jerk anti-anything corporation and it's disgusting.

It reeks of wanting to drink quality small batch brews. No one has impugned the character of the business owners, just the quality of the the beer.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:11 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sounds like so far, the breweries are not being shits. Quite a change from the way they treat independent distributors.

Ironically (and probably due to DoJ pressure), they have become less shitty since the earlier megamergers about distributors carrying product from multiple megabreweries and craft beers both. Still, if distributors don't see a path to decent profitability in carrying small brewery product, they won't. That shit doesn't get to the warehouse for free, after all, and it's not like margins are all that high. A good number of them operate barely at breakeven or even at a loss as some guy's vanity project (although you see less of that in the last decade or so as the big breweries encourage consolidation and improved service)

Once it's in the warehouse, there isn't a lot of cost involved in stocking and selling a few pallets of product, assuming demand is there/can be developed since they are already making the rounds anyway and they tend to have at least some extra space. It would help if the newish small brewers could afford to ship their beers to the distributors themselves, but they are generally working on a shoestring budget, so neither party is particularly interested in taking on the risk.
posted by wierdo at 8:14 PM on August 24, 2016


Sorry (not sorry) but it just reeks of jealousy and knee-jerk anti-anything corporation and it's disgusting.

Have you actually, like, met any corporations?

I don't really like the term "selling out" and thus won't defend it here, but there is a sense of loss that comes from knowing that there's one less small, independent business out there holding the line against the kind of anti-consumer practices that virtually oligopoly tends toward. Of course it's wrong to impugn the motives of anyone who wants to sell their business, but participants in a system can all be acting rationally and even morally while still creating bad outcomes for consumers, and it's natural to wish that more people would fight the good fight by staying independent.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:49 PM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


God, why Elysian for chrissakes? They are literally the crappiest "micro" brew in this town.

Them's fightin' words, Slarty Bartfast. Space Dust is so good. I first had it a few years ago and now I can get it all the time. Apparently the acquisition is why. This has me conflicted.
posted by R343L at 10:26 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Regarding the idea of "selling out", I think it's a bit of a particular cultural orientation that this even makes sense. Many large companies are highly respected by many people. Being acquired by one of those companies is "making it" from another perspective. Not all big companies are uniformly awful and not all small ones are good (I'm sure we can all list examples of a local small business that is actually doing a really bad job of it and market forces should by rights cause them to go under). I'm kind of glad to learn InBev (for instance) is heavily investing in letting its acquired breweries experiment and not just taking the recipes and brands and turning over a profit.
posted by R343L at 10:32 PM on August 24, 2016


What the article doesn't cover is breweries who sold out and disappeared. I used to live near the Old Dominion Brewery, they made good beers. Their staples were a lager, an ale, and a black and tan, everyday pantry beers all better than Sam Adams or Yuengling. They were too good to be allowed to survive in the A-B universe of beers. Since being acquired by A-B (before it was ABInBev) Old Dominion is now just an empty marketing exercise in making sex jokes on beer labels. Ugh.
posted by peeedro at 1:36 AM on August 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's no point in reading anything written on Serious Eats - they wrote once that resting meat after cooking so the juices didn't bleed all over the place was wrong.
posted by Docrailgun at 5:45 AM on August 25, 2016


It's too soon to make a call on how this will all work out.

There is no question but that big beer will use its market leverage at some point to muscle out the smaller independents. Once that happens then we'll have to take a look at the quality of the product being produced.

There is precedent for this. If you go back to the 1950's and look at the history of the brewing in the U.S. you can see how consolidation eliminated scores of brands and styles of beer. This created the environment that gave rise to the craft beer movement in the first place.

Once people started seeing how good and varied beer could actually taste, big beer responded with a strategy of: If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. We have yet to see the full impact of this strategy.
posted by mygoditsbob at 6:10 AM on August 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


I used to drink a lot of beer. I liked microbreweries because I could find something new and different. Batches were generally consistent, but over time I grew bored with some of them and either they refreshed their selection, or I found a new brewery. There are only a handful of beers which I drank back then that I can tell you I remember 15-20 years later - and I kept beer notes. The beers that I remember are the ones that entered into the rare space of regularity and at least regional acquisition - namely Smutty Nose (Old Brown Dog and Double Bag come to mind) - which was bought by the Portsmouth Brewing Company. When I go to a place, I'll occasionally try the local brews now, but generally the locals sorta are hoppy messes, or burnt, or have something wrong with them.

Meanwhile, I know what I'm getting and overpaying for with an over-sized microbrewery in wide distribution - enough liquid enjoyment that I can tolerate my coworkers.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:36 AM on August 25, 2016


I don't really care if my beer is made by a tiny business or as a subsidary of a big corporation, as long as it tastes good. Right now I have some Deschutes in my fridge, which I think of as a medium sized brewery since you see their product everywhere. As was said above, the test will come when there is a financial crunch and the big companies start looking closely at the bottom line.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 AM on August 25, 2016


Ballast Point selling out really profoundly bums me out.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:24 AM on August 25, 2016


Speaking as someone who loves craft beer, hell, even has a podcast dedicated to it, I try to be mindful and less disdainful of the choices brewers face. Success is great and I encourage a lot of breweries I've gotten to know over the past seven years by buying and talking up their product, but it's a hard job still. For every success, there is a lot of beer dumped and that means money lost.
posted by Kitteh at 7:36 AM on August 25, 2016


The article talks about how these mega corporations are not destroying the beer at Goose Island et al., and even arguably improving on it. This is I suppose is notable, at least in its current state.

However, large multi-national corporations taking over bits and pieces of a locally-driven craft beer industry is completely contrary to a key part of its appeal. Going to a local taproom and purchasing something truly locally based is a really cool thing to be able to do. Not everyone cares, but I certainly do.

So sure, the beer is still good. Well, until they decide it's not in their best interest to keep it good. I've been part of mega-corp acquisitions in other industries, more than once. Every time, EVERY TIME, they say "keep doing what you're doing, we love your product." With time the influence of the mega-corp seeps in, stuff gets scaled up for profits, quality suffers, because of course it does.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:45 AM on August 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


More beer. Wider distribution. Uncertain future.
posted by tommasz at 7:49 AM on August 25, 2016


ABI keeps the brewmaster for Goose Island in a deep pit. He is only allowed to communicate with the outside world with Pale Ale recipes. That's why everything they put out now is an IPA, an APA, or some other kind of pale ale.

On the plus side, I hear their upcoming Please Tell My Family I Love Them and I Miss Them Pale Ale is a hop-forward delight.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:09 AM on August 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


The mention of the new acquisitions being used to crowd out still independent brewers is unfortunate, but not at all unexpected.

At the same time, good for the folks who got to turn their passion project into a solid financial reward. Selling out? I'd sell out in a heartbeat if I could. Sadly, I lack the sort of things giant multinational corporations tend to spend millions of dollars buying. Damn.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:21 AM on August 25, 2016


A number of friends of mine worked at Local Somewhat Cool Brewery which had a couple brewpubs, including one very successful one near the sports fields. It got bought out by AB.

They promised to change nothing, and within a few months had discontinued several fairly popular beers and started to restructure things. They bought out a divey cool bar everyone i know liked in downtown, and reopened it as a weird... expensive as hell craft cocktail lounge, with the branding of the brewery.

One of my friends who loved working there left town. There were other reasons too, but he decided the place was toast. Most of my other friends who worked there quit and quickly got other brewpub/bar/restaurant jobs easily. I think maybe one still works there.

They said the entire mood of the place had just died, and the management culture was weird after the owner basically peaced out. Everything was either really uncertain or "suddenly: RULES!"

I'm not sure how the place is now, but it was most definitely not just "more distribution and larger scale production knowledge while the place gets to stay the same", and that wasn't just psychological.

See also: how redhook tastes like asshole now even compared to what it tasted like ten years ago. but hey, it comes in cute bottles!
posted by emptythought at 11:14 AM on August 25, 2016


I think the ideal is when you have the big corporation buying in, like that deal with Founders, rather than buying out. That seems to have a direct effect on maintaining quality while increasing distribution. Long ago I wouldn't mind having a Red Hook or a Goose Island, or even a Leinenkugel. But boy, those beers went straight to the shitter and never returned. You couldn't even pay me to drink anything with the Leinie label any more.

I am just glad that some of the larger micros in the upper Midwest seem to be expanding without selling out: Summit, Bells, Surly, Schells, etc.
posted by Ber at 12:12 PM on August 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


For contrast, here is an inspirational story about a microbrewery, somewhat simplified and shortened, but basically on point.

Bell's Brewery's distributor partner in Illinois got bought out in 2006. The new distributors arranged a meeting with Larry Bell in which they basically identified their favorites of his beers and told him they'd distribute those. Not the entire line? he asked. No, just Oberon and a few others. Bell simply said no. They told him they owned his distributor rights for Illinois and without them, he couldn't sell beer here. Bell's response? Okay. He then waited out the agreement (even skirting it by selling a few new beers made for Illinois that weren't technically part of the other deal) and then came back in full force with a new partner when the time was up. More detail here, but I always loved this story and it was an excuse to tell it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Living close to Bell's is one of the few good things about Indiana. Damned near every pub has, at the very least, Two Hearted on-tap. A few also have Oberon next to it. And, pretty much every grocery store has a good selection of Bell's brews. A six-pack of Two Hearted goes for about $9-10 at my nearest grocery.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:37 PM on August 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this is my naïveté speaking, but it seems like if the key problem for a microbrewery that sells out is to not have to churn out batch after batch of their best-seller and leave it to somebody better able to handle that at scale, freeing them up to make better stuff, then wouldn't it make more sense to license sale, distribution, and branding of just the popular brew to the giants instead of selling the entire operation wholesale?

So if brew X does great, license to ABI. ABI produces the recipe and can brew, market, distribute, and the microbrewery gets a reasonable cut for the license and, if possible, some control over quality or something since the beer is still marketed with their business' good name.

With that revenue stream in hand, and the production work off their shoulders, the microbrewer can work on the next big thing.

Seems like ABI would benefit from a steady stream of winners, microbrewers still retain control and can remain local and have the income and time to work on even better beers.

But, that's a better world, and we can't have that, can we?
posted by delicious-luncheon at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2016


Here's an interesting bit since my family grows hops in the Yakima Valley. Hop sales for almost all breweries (unless you own your own hop field which is like nobody except for the giants) is controlled by the YCHP (Yakima Chief/Hop Union). They set the buying and selling prices of hops. It's up to hop farmers to grow the right varieties (like Citra and Mosaic) of the craft hops in order to make money. Some of these families have made more money in the last 10 years than they've ever seen. It's been interesting to watch how it changes the Valley. The funny thing is that hop farming has largely gone unchanged for decades!
posted by KingBoogly at 3:56 PM on August 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


On the other hand, in in my social media feed an ad for 10 Barrel Cucumber Sour just showed up, complete with sub-Miller Lite lo-carb-beer sloganeering #crushlife. I would try a cucumber sour, but spare me the brospeak, awful marketing team.
posted by Existential Dread at 5:58 PM on August 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


While technically true, I suppose, he's referring to a lager with nearly 30% rice in the grain bill.

...and?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:46 AM on August 26, 2016


It reeks of wanting to drink quality small batch brews.

God, this again. How does batch size affect quality? Is there, like, a set number of gallons beyond which quality declines? Is it a linear degradation? Enquiring minds who don't swallow everything made by the latest homebrewer with a Ned Kelly beard and a truckers hat and a second mortgage and delusions of grandeur want to know.

Small is not better. Big is not better. Better is better. Size has fuck all to do with it. There are awesome beers that are brewed by the megaliter, and there are absolutely shit beers that come out of small 'craft' outfits.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:54 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Small is not better. Big is not better. Better is better. Size has fuck all to do with it.

Just because there's no direct connection doesn't mean there isn't correlation. Bigger means optimization, which could be innocuous stuff like tweaks for efficiency in the brew cycle or it could be modifying the recipes for longer shelf life/shipping time. Bigger means that you're expanding into other markets, and since there's a finite market that inherently means something else is being lost. Bigger means more money, and while I'm happy that my Lagunitas is just as tasty today, doesn't mean that financial pressures won't become an issue down the line.

I don't think anyone here is saying increasing production volume automatically makes beer suck.
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:45 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


The problem with increased production is you have to sell that production. Lately that tends to mean reverting to a mean on taste to the point where the product becomes indistinguishable from mass market products.
posted by Mitheral at 3:16 PM on August 26, 2016


Big doesn't have to mean worse but statistically it's a pretty good indicator.
posted by octothorpe at 4:32 PM on August 26, 2016


Enquiring minds who don't swallow everything made by the latest homebrewer with a Ned Kelly beard and a truckers hat and a second mortgage and delusions of grandeur want to know.

Well for one thing freshness is a big part of it. Larger batches tend to increase supply thereby causing beer to sit on shelves longer negatively impacting taste.

This isn't rocket science. Even the unwashed masses who don't sport Ned Kelly beards and wear trucker's hats should be able to understand it. It's also a pretty settled matter, from what I can tell, that in any production chain smaller batches are better. There are several reasons for this, but the most obvious is that smaller batches lead to the aforementioned smaller inventory. Smaller inventory always leads to higher quality because each smaller batch run can be individually sampled for quality. Any fuck up will be partially mitigated by the small batch size, whereas with larger batch sizes the fuckup is amplified in the supply chain. This is fairly straightforward and uncontroversial. But go ahead and continue to get all aggro and aggressive about beer and supply chains.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:20 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Smaller inventory always leads to higher quality because each smaller batch run can be individually sampled for quality.

I'll point out that bigger breweries spend a lot of money on quality control and consistency. At big breweries, beer doesn't get loaded on a truck without being checked at multiple stages by a QC chemist and tasted by a sensory analysis panel. You may not like Budweiser, but it is an amazing feat that a can brewed in Jacksonville, Fl is indistinguishable from a can brewed Fort Collins, Co.
posted by peeedro at 9:01 AM on August 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


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